It's apparent that our public schools are headed in the wrong direction, and money won't fix what's wrong. If a train is going the wrong way on the track, shoveling more coal in the firebox only takes you further away from your goal faster. We must first elect board members who see that we're headed in the wrong direction.
At a recent school board candidate forum, one of the candidates rattled off a list of things that every child needs in order to learn -- a good night's sleep, three meals a day, appropriate clothing for the weather, "a parent that will make you go to bed at night, even if you don't want to." The candidate went on to indicate that the schools "have to educate the parents about the importance of sleep and routines" and then listed all the non-educational support that Tulsa Public Schools offers to students: breakfast, lunch, food to take home for the weekend, clothes. So this is the fruit of the Great Society and a half-century of Federal interference in local schools, by way of the carrot of federal funding and the stick of judicial activism -- two generations of parents who don't know how to manage their time and money to keep their children fed, clothed, and ready for school. What we're doing isn't working.
Although every school district in the state has at least one vacancy each year, most of them go unchallenged. In all of Tulsa County, only one board seat will be on the ballot this coming Tuesday, February 9, 2016. In election district 5, Republican challenger Stan Minor will face Democrat incumbent Cindy Decker. I live in the district, and I plan to vote for Stan Minor. Minor would bring to the job a deep love for the Tulsa school system, an understanding that TPS's current direction hasn't been working, and a businessman's perspective on the school budget. He understands that TPS cannot survive, much less thrive, if it continues to drain enrollment to suburban districts and other educational options.
Stan Minor is a petroleum landman. He attended Tulsa Public Schools all the way through, spending some time at Nathan Hale High School before graduating at Memorial High School. He has been involved for several years in an alumni fundraising committee for Nathan Hale.
Stan Minor wants to shake things up -- to "say no to the status quo" -- but in the nicest possible way. As a person, he is affable and positive, but he's saddened to see the decline in the Tulsa school system from his day, when everyone wanted their kids to a TPS school, to today, with declining enrollments and parents moving to the suburbs, enrolling their children in private schools, or educating them at home. Minor points out that enrollment matters in the state funding formula, and it wastes money to have so many school buildings, many of them renovated or with added features thanks to the generosity of taxpayers, running so far below capacity. Minor notes that enrollment is now near the level of 1952, about half the size of the system at its peak, and it's continuing to shrink.
Minor, who played football in junior high and high school, remembers how school sports helped create a sense of community within the school and connected a school with its surrounding neighborhood. All that added up to an emotional investment by students, parents, and patrons in their schools -- something that doesn't seem to exist any more.
Minor sees football as having a particularly important role in knitting together the school community at the beginning of each academic year, A competitive team can bring the whole school together -- players, marching band members, cheerleaders, parents, faculty, alumni, and neighbors, sharing the experience of cheering on the team. That school spirit carries on to other sports, music, drama, and other activities as the year rolls on. For neighbors and alumni, school spirit translates into volunteer involvement. For younger kids, it translates into an attachment to their future high school. All of that can
Community spirit is nothing without educational excellence. Minor opposes Common Core, with its extreme focus on high-stakes testing and the straitjacket it places on teachers. (His opponent is backed by pro-Common Core pressure groups like Stand with Children.)
Stan Minor supports fairness in magnet school admissions. He argues that admission to academically competitive magnet schools (Carver MS, Washington HS, Edison MS and HS) should be by lottery among all applicants that meet the academic qualifications. The current system opens the door to favoritism.
Stan Minor is married and has a son and a daughter. While I've only recently gotten to know Stan, I met his son when he was a high school senior applying to MIT. His son has gone on to graduate from MIT and to a successful career in computer science.
The other candidate in the race, Cindy Decker, was appointed to the post a few months ago by the other members of the board. While she has an impressive resume, it seems fair to assume that they didn't pick her to shake things up. (There's a regrettable practice, for those offices where replacements are appointed, for the office holder to quit early and allow a like-minded successor to be appointed, giving the replacement the advantage of incumbency and depriving voters of an open election.)
Decker proudly wears her endorsement from Stand for Children, the group that lobbied the legislature to keep Common Core ("a wonderful group," she said), and Tulsa Regional Chamber, which endorsed Common Core in its OneVoice legislative platform and lobbied for Common Core at the Capitol.
When asked about the strengths of the Tulsa Public Schools, Decker could only point to the new superintendent, Deborah Gist, citing her resume, credentials, and the number of work. That's a common problem for leftists: measuring success by inputs, not outcomes.
Tulsa Public Schools desperately needs new leadership. If you live in Election District 5 (the yellow area in the map below), please go to your polling place on Tuesday and join me in voting for Stan Minor.
If you have questions for Stan Minor or would like a yard sign, call or text him at 918-605-8006 or email him at email@example.com
Election District 5 stretches from the river to Harvard, 21st to 51st, plus 11th to 21st, Utica to Yale, and 11th to 41st, Harvard to Yale, and the part of precinct 68 south of I-44.
Tulsa County Republicans will meet in precinct caucuses tonight, Thursday, February 4, 2016, at 6:30 p.m. the first step in the quadrennial process to elect delegates to the Republican National Convention and members of the Republican National Committee, and to determine the party platform.
Groups of Tulsa County precincts will meet at 19 central locations spread around the county. The gathered precincts will go through the preliminaries as a group, then break up into individual precinct caucuses to elect delegates to the March 5, 2016, County Convention (who will in turn choose delegates to Congressional District Convention in April and the May 14, 2016, State Convention) and to vote on resolutions to be forwarded to the county and state conventions for inclusion in the platform. A presidential preference straw poll will be taken -- exactly like the Iowa caucus, non-binding, but a chance to gauge the sentiments of Republican activists less than a month before we make our binding choice in the March 1 primary. The tulsagop.org website has the list of caucus locations and answers to frequently-asked questions about the process.
These central meeting locations were developed as a convenience for precinct officials and delegates. Some precinct chairmen may prefer not to host strangers in their home, and some delegates may feel more at ease in meeting people they don't know in a public place rather than someone's home. Some precincts have no officials currently, and a central meeting place gives interested newcomers a place to go and get things restarted. The central locations also provide an opportunity to meet fellow activists from nearby neighborhoods in a less crowded environment than the county convention.
Over the last couple of years central locations were organized by State House district, but this year, they were grouped more geographically and precinct chairmen were given a choice of locations. At least one precinct has opted out of the central-meeting approach and will meet within the boundaries of their precinct. Whatever the case, your precinct location should be posted on the door of your regular voting location by Thursday evening.
The precinct meeting is the launch pad of the platform process, and the timing couldn't be better for speaking out on some big current local issues. While many platform resolutions passed by the precincts deal with national issues and may percolate to the Republican National Platform, our Tulsa County platform also covers city and county resolutions. I'm hoping that every precinct passes a resolution expressing opposition to the new river sales tax proposal, which will be on the ballot in April.
With a school board election next week and a special primary for sheriff on March 1, I expect candidates will be making the rounds of the meetings. (Please be aware that, in the only contested school board seat in the county, Stan Minor is a Republican and appointed incumbent Cindy Decker is a Democrat.)
I especially want to encourage my skeptical young millennial friends to come to a precinct meeting -- preferably as a delegate, but at least as an observer. It's an often overlooked aspect of our election process, and I think that seeing it may alleviate some of your cynicism.
Spaghetti Warehouse, one of the catalysts for transforming a neglected neighborhood of warehouses into Oklahoma City's Bricktown entertainment district, closed its doors today after 26 years of business, a victim of the surrounding district's success. The restaurant opened for business, with space for 425 diners, on November 12, 1989, at 101 E. Sheridan Ave.
Of all today's news, this story may seem minor, but it touches on the hidden history of the revival of America's downtowns through adaptive reuse of older buildings. In the urban renewal orgy of the 1950s and 1960s, main streets took a beating. Downtown promoters, facing competition from new car-friendly shopping in the suburbs, thought the solution was to mimic the suburbs: demolish older commercial buildings and close streets, replacing them with modern shopping malls and acres of parking.
As Jane Jacobs wrote in The Death and Life of Great American Cities, "Old ideas can sometimes use new buildings. New ideas must use old buildings." (Click the quote to read more of the context.) Warehouses and industrial buildings, at the periphery of the central business district, were often overlooked by the urban renewal wreckers, and so they became the raw material for the visionaries of urban revival.
The first Spaghetti Warehouse opened in a forgotten corner of downtown Dallas in 1972. Eclectic decor (including a dining room inside a restored streetcar) in an unusual setting drew diners, and a patented steam-cooking method for pasta fed them quickly and kept them coming back. Over the next decade, the restaurant's success inspired other entrepreneurs to renovate nearby buildings for clubs and eateries. The result was Dallas's West End entertainment district.
The concept expanded to 14 locations when it opened in Oklahoma City. That same month the Bricktown Association was formed and city planners began looking at how to manage increased interest in the area. Piggy's BBQ and the Pyramid Club had already been operating in the area, and another nightclub opened that December.
Renovation and promotion of Bricktown as an entertainment district had begun in 1982. The opening of the OKC Spaghetti Warehouse in 1989 pre-dated the MAPS vote by four years and the completion of Bricktown's canal, ballpark, and arena by almost a decade.
I reached out to BLD Brands Director of Marketing Kathy Wan with a few questions about the Oklahoma City closing and the fate of the Tulsa store in the Bob Wills District, which opened in July 1992. She assured me, "We are definitely not closing Tulsa!"
So what was the problem in Oklahoma City? Ms. Wan explained:
We are closing due to two main reasons - business at this location not doing as well as before and we want to introduce a new look of Spaghetti Warehouse. Parking is definitely an issue at OKC because we have a lot of families and large groups as patrons. Economic and demographic dynamics of downtown warehouse districts have changed over the years so we need to update our branding and strategic plans. We are working on plans to reopen in the OKC market. We do not know yet if this particular location still makes sense for the new SWRI brand so this is something we are evaluating very closely in the next several months.
Tulsa's location has its own off-street lot. There are off-street lots near the OKC location, but not immediately adjacent, and these lots serve dozens of nearby restaurants and clubs. That makes the location less than desirable for the kinds of large groups that a restaurant of that size needs to attract.
After more than 30 years in the community, we have made the difficult business decision to suspend operations and announce the closure of the Spaghetti Warehouse Restaurant in Oklahoma City.
The closure is effective on Tuesday, February 2nd. We are working closely with everyone on our staff, whose hard work and dedication is appreciated and we thank them for their many contributions.
To our many guests, we say thank you. We enjoyed serving you, your family and friends. And, it was our pleasure to share in the celebrations that took place over countless lunches and dinners, not to mention birthdays, anniversaries and other special occasions.
Spaghetti Warehouse was one of the first businesses involved in the Bricktown revitalization and we thank everyone in the Oklahoma City community who we've served and who supported us. For anyone who has a question about our restaurant in Oklahoma City, we invite you to send us an email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
As we continue to work on a new look for our brand, we are hopeful that in the near future we can reopen Spaghetti Warehouse within the Oklahoma City market.
MORE: Steve Lackmayer of the Oklahoman has more about Bricktown's history and recent attempts to make a deal to develop the unused upper floors of the Spaghetti Warehouse building.
SOMEWHAT RELATED: Excerpts from an insightful article by the late Jane Jacobs on how cities can enlist time and change as allies in the struggle to keep neighborhoods vital. She deals with the particular challenges of immigrant-dominated neighborhoods, the need for "community hearths," and the problems wrought by gentrification. This epitomizes so much of what is lovely in her urban criticism -- carefully observing reality and then finding and encouraging patterns that work because they are aligned with human nature. Too much of 20th century urban development was using bulldozers and billions of dollars to extinguish urban life where it naturally sprang up and then to try to recreate it artificially somewhere else. Urban Husbandry (a term coined by Roberta Brandes Gratz to describe a non-hubristic approach to city planning) finds naturally occurring signs of city life and, like a farmer, prunes, weeds, waters, and fertilizes to help the natural growth along -- a less expensive and more effective approach to Big Project Planning.
This has to do with one of the stupidest, zaniest, least necessary and most mentally challenged projects the city has ever undertaken -- and that's saying something -- a so-called "white water feature," or fake rapids, in the Trinity River downstream from downtown. Opened to recreational paddlers on May 7, 2011, the white water feature was closed to navigation the same day when the first few paddlers complained they had almost been killed.
City attorneys told the council in an emergency executive session Wednesday that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was only hours away from shutting down almost the entire drinking water system for Dallas if the council didn't immediately cough up $3 to $5 million to fix or (better idea) demolish the stupid white water feature. Some on the council didn't believe the lawyers, so thank goodness they balked at signing the check.
Council members Philip Kingston and Scott Griggs say now that some element of the threat was a bluff and that the most the Corps probably would have shut down was any additional goofy construction projects in the river bottom. "That would have been doing us a favor," Kingston said....
Some years ago the park portion of the Trinity River project, an ambitious plan to rebuild the entire riverfront through downtown Dallas, was turned over to Dallas socialites. Apparently the socialites glimpsed a man-made whitewater park over the rims of their martini glasses while semi-reclined on a canopied deck somewhere in Colorado and decided they wanted to bring one home. But they thought it would be better for the taxpayers to pay for it, because ... money.
The article goes on to note that the "fake rapids" cost $5 million, more than triple the original estimate, and that the supposedly family-friendly, gentle side of the rapids was so turbulent "under certain conditions that it acts more like an in-sink DisposAll in your kitchen," sending boats and people to the bottom and not letting them up. The water feature also created an obstacle to existing recreational uses -- canoeing and fishing.
Why would a botched set of fake rapids endanger Dallas's water supply? It may be because the of an upstream Corps of Engineers dam that desperately needs repair. River guide and Corps-watcher Charles Allen thinks that the Corps is concerned about the water feature interfering with conveyance, because it "is piling up tons of silt on its upriver side." That would limit how much water the Corps can release from upstream lakes to repair their dams without jeopardizing the levees downstream.
What does all this have to do with the water supply? It's the Corps leverage over the city, as the water feature was covered under a broad "recreational permit," which did not require any sort of environmental study.
The big permits that the Corps does hold over the city's head, called 404 permits, could theoretically be construed to govern virtually the entire water supply of the city. And that's the type of saber they are rattling. They don't have a pea-shooter to aim at the white water feature alone, so they are bringing out bigger guns by threatening to yank the 404 permits, or so the lawyers told the council last Wednesday.
Maybe cities are smarter when they let the river alone to act like a river.
On Wednesday, I attended the Tulsa rally for presidential candidate Donald Trump with former Alaska Gov. and vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, held at ORU's Mabee Center. I was there as a member of the news media; I received an email at 7 pm the night before the event saying that I was credentialed to attend.
Obviously, this isn't a breaking news report (five days later). You've read the stories and seen the clips, but I hope to tell you about things you missed by not being there.
After waiting in line for over 30 minutes in a cold lobby (during which I got to visit with Matthew Vermillion of Forty-Six News), we received our misprinted media badges ("Tusla" instead of "Tulsa"), got wanded by the Secret Service, and were finally allowed inside the arena.
Trump later tweeted a claim that 15,000 were in attendance and another 5,000 turned away. As the official Mabee Center seating charts indicate, the arena holds 8,400 in the stands in the expanded end arena configuration that was in use. There were no seats on the floor -- the back 1/4th was devoted to media, the other end was occupied by the stage, leaving the middle half for standees. A wedge of seats behind the stage was blocked off with curtains.
I was standing on the front rail of the media area, just to the right of the camera stand. At noon, the official starting time of the event, the standing area was perhaps 2/3 full; the lower bowl of the arena was 90% full, and the upper seating was perhaps half full. People continued to trickle in over the next hour, while we waited for the event to begin, with more upper level seats filling in and more standees, but there was still a significant amount of empty space at the back of the standee area. Based on that, I would have guessed about 8,000 in attendance. The Tulsa Fire Department said that 8,937 people were allowed into the building.
According to Tulsa Fire Department, which assisted in crowd control, 8,937 people were allotted seating. Event doors were closed once the crowd reached that number.
A fire official says additional supporters were not allowed inside the event to ensure safety.
(Why is the fire department interested in the size of a crowd? A public gathering place has to have adequate exit routes to evacuate everyone in the building safely within a certain window of time. Even if there were the space to squeeze more people in, the fire marshal would shut the doors to new arrivals once the facility's maximum permitted occupancy had been reached.)
I was in the building from 10:00 on, so I can't speak to how many were turned away, but people kept coming in right up until Trump was introduced at 1:07, and there were still empty seats and space available in the standee area. People might have been turned away because they couldn't be screened quickly enough, or perhaps because some emergency exits had to be closed for security reasons, requiring a lower fire-safety limit than the normal capacity.
It's hard to generalize about the people in attendance. A wide range of ages were represented (although many of the younger people I noticed in the standee area turned out to be protesters, holding up a banner reading "Trump makes America hate again"). Most appeared to be normal Oklahomans, with only a handful seeming to be fanatics. One young bearded man, stationed in the back of the standees, frequently shouted things like, "We love you, Sarah," as he waved his rally signs. He seemed to determined to attract attention. One lady in the press area had a dress papered over with pictures of Trump. Another standee was sporting a "Putin/Nugent 2016" t-shirt. The people I saw certainly didn't fit political consultant Rick Wilson's lurid characterization of Trump supporters.
Two things stood out to me about the crowd: It was almost all Caucasian (maybe one person out of 200 was not), and very few were people were GOP activists. I spotted four folks in the crowd that I knew from 25 years of local Republican Party involvement -- two activists who were big supporters of former Congressman John Sullivan, a consultant from Jim Bridenstine's first congressional campaign, and Dan Keating, brother of the former governor and Trump's state chairman.
While people filed in, we listened to loud bluegrass covers of U2 hits like "Pride (In the Name of Love)" and "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For." At 11:45 Keating kicked things off with a few remarks. Word-Faith televangelist Cathy Mink of Len Mink Ministries gave the invocation. Before she got around to praying, Mrs. Mink called Trump "a David raised up to defeat Goliath" (Vera Coking would have begged to differ) and a "friend of Israel and a defender of Christians." She exclaimed, "Just think -- we will be able to shout Merry Christmas everywhere once he gets to the Oval Office." (What's keeping her from doing that now?) She concluded by claiming the "Prayer of Jabez" on Trump's behalf. The brief prayer for expanded influence and blessing, recorded in the midst of genealogies in 1st Chronicles 4:10, was a publishing sensation around the turn of the Millennium.
A group of three men (unidentified) led the Pledge of Allegiance. A young blonde woman sang the National Anthem in the Whitney Houston standard melismatic fashion, with some in the crowd singing along quietly). And then, as Adele's "Rolling in the Deep" began to play, this voice came over the sound system:
"Ladies and gentlemen, we all know that as President of the United States, Mr. Trump will continue his lifelong defense of the right to free speech in America. As a matter of fact, he supports the First Amendment just as much as he supports the Second Amendment. [Wild cheers.] However some people have taken advantge of Mr. Trump's hospitality by choosing to disturb his rallies by using them as an opportunity to promote their own political messages. [Boos.] While they certainly have the right to free speech, this is a private event paid for by Mr. Trump. We have provided a safe protest area outside the venue for all protesters.
"If a protester starts demonstrating in the area around you, please do not touch or harm the protester. This is a peaceful rally. In order to notify the law enforcement officers of the location of the protester, please hold a rally sign above your head and start chanting "Trump! Trump! Trump!" [Chanting.] Ask the people around you to do likewise until officers remove the protestors. Thank you for helping us to make America great again! [Wild cheers.]"
It was now about 11:50. And then we waited for 77 minutes, listening to an eclectic playlist, blasted at high volume that began with Adele's "Rolling in the Deep," followed by "Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera, the aria "Nessun dorma" from Puccini's Turandot (sounded like the Harry Secombe version), Elton John's "Tiny Dancer," Adele's "Skyfall."
Did the campaign pick "Music of the Night," or was it an ORU student or staffer making subtle commentary?
Close your eyes and surrender to your darkest dreams
Purge your thoughts of the life you knew before
Close your eyes, let your spirit start to soar
And you'll live as you've never lived before
Softly, deftly, music shall surround you
feel it, hear it, closing in around you
Open up your mind, let your fantasies unwind
In this darkness which you know you cannot fight
The darkness of the music of the night
At about 12:15, an aide came out to the podium, adjusting the microphone and checking for water bottles, giving some hope that things would be underway soon. As if taunting the audience, the sound man played the Rolling Stones "You Can't Always Get What You Want." (More commentary?) That was followed by "Memory" (from Cats), "Hey Jude," "Rocket Man," and then back through the rotation again. As we passed an hour after the scheduled start, many on the north side (nearer the public entrance) were standing in anticipation while those on the south side stayed seated.
When the sound man cut short "Rocket Man," the crowd cheered in anticipation, "Eye of the Tiger" started up, and the PA announced, "The next President of the United States, Donald! J! Trump!" Trump spoke briefly, introduced Palin, who spoke for about 20 minutes, and then Trump returned to the stage, speaking for about 35 minutes.
About halfway through Trump's speech, people started leaving the arena, a few here and there, and then a steady stream -- maybe students who had a class at 2:00 pm, maybe audience members whose curiosity to see Trump in person was sated and who were ready to move on with their day after investing three or four hours in this event.
I won't recap everything that Trump and Palin said -- there are plenty of sources for that information -- but I'll hit a couple of highlights.
Palin repeatedly referred to Trump as a commander: "Are you ready for a commander who will allow us to make America great?"
The strangest thing that came out of Palin's mouth was her implication that her son's Track's wartime experience -- and the failure of the Obama administration to properly appreciate the troops -- was to blame for his recent arrest on domestic violence charges. That didn't get much reaction.
She got the crowd going again with talk of the "complicity of both sides of the aisle" -- pushed by the donor class -- in open borders, crony capitalist budgets, and lousy trade deals. In response to charges from "the GOP machine" that "we're not conservative enough," Palin asked, "Is it conservative to watch safety nets turn to hammocks?" She asked similar questions about open borders, trillion-dollar blank checks to Obama, and trillions in added debt. She encapsulated the GOP's Trump problem: A failure by congressional leadership to keep faith with the people who returned them to majority status opened the door for someone, as Palin put it, "ballsy enough to put issues on the table." (Which line got a huge cheer.)
It was striking that, with one exception, the two did not criticize any of Trump's rivals for the nomination. Trump's shots at Cruz earlier in the week had brought criticism from conservative talk radio. He may also have held back because of Cruz's popularity with Oklahoma conservatives.
The one shot Trump took at a rival was aimed at Jeb Bush. Trump trumpeted the latest poll numbers from Florida, which showed Trump at 48, Cruz at 16, Rubio at 11, and Bush "down in the toilet." Bush, he said, "is a stiff, no question about it." Referring to recent TV appearances of conservative pundits, Trump said Karl Rove looked "like a boiler waiting to explode." "You take the glasses away from George Will, and he's a stupid-looking guy."
Trump also took potshots at the camera crews at the back of the room, calling them "disgusting" because they only showed the crowd when a protest erupted. KOTV News on 6 anchor Terry Hood took offense, responding on Facebook:
Ok, so I'm watching the Trump video and this part was upsetting to me. The "disgusting" photographer he was talking about from Channel 6 is one of my best friends. His job was to keep the camera on Trump because we were live streaming his speech. We had another photog shooting the crowd and still another covering his arrival and departure from the airport. None of them deserve to be called names by this man.
About halfway into Trump's speech, around 1:45, I noticed that people began leaving in twos or threes. The stream of departures grew as time went on. (Trump continued to speak until 2:06.) I imagine many people had expected to be done early enough to make it back to work or to class by 2:00 p.m.; perhaps others had had their curiosity satisfied and were ready to get on with the day.
As the speech entered its second half, a few more protests erupted. It seemed as if the protesters figured that time was running out to get the attention they wanted.
Trump concluded by repeating like a mantra "We're going to win!"
Scott Adams, creator of the comic strip "Dilbert," is also a trained hypnotist and is a student of the art of persuasion. In his blog, Adams has been analyzing Trump's methods of persuasion, and he has come to the conclusion that Trump is unbeatable. In his latest post, Adams says that National Review's latest issue warning its readers that Trump is not a conservative is in reality a capitulation. "You'll see a lot of debate on whether Trump is a true conservative or not. That is argument by definition. It is the linguistic equivalent of throwing your gun at a monster because the magazine is empty." Earlier, Adams explained why Palin's endorsement is "probably a home run":
Trump's biggest obstacle is his perceived lack of empathy, along with voter suspicions about his motives. Palin's endorsement says, in effect, that she doesn't see anything dark in his soul. You can dislike Palin's politics, but she is ridiculously likable on a personal level. And that likability probably translates into some sort of irrational trust about her people-judging skills.
I've been watching politics for a very long time, going back to my childhood, so it's funny to observe the media's new-found concern about gerrymandering -- the practice of manipulating election district boundaries to benefit one party over another. The media's concern seems to have emerged with the growing dominance of the Republican Party in state legislatures and governor's mansions. (If that chart went further back, into the '70s and '80s, Democrat-dominated state governments would show up in greater numbers.) Suddenly, there are calls to take redistricting away from the politicians and put it in the hands of judges or computers or appointed commissions, or some combination of the three.
But a recently released, comprehensive archive of historical congressional district boundaries reveals that Democrats had no scruples against partisan gerrymanders when they had control of the process. Scholars at the University of California at Los Angeles have developed digital shapefiles of congressional districts going all the way back to 1789 and the 1st Congress. A Github site has the files organized by state and Congress; click on a link and you'll see an interactive map overlaying OpenStreetMap. You can zoom in and see how the old boundaries overlay towns and streets. More readily accessible, but without the interactive capabilities, is a Wikipedia page showing Oklahoma congressional district maps going back to 1972.
I had unsuccessfully been looking for old district maps for ages. I can't tell you how excited I was to find these.
As I said, I've been watching this process for a very long time. I remember 1982, when the Democrats in the Legislature, with Governor Nigh's approval, cut heavily Republican south Tulsa out of the 1st Congressional District, in order to improve incumbent Democrat Congressman Jim Jones's chances of survival, and shifted those voters into the heavily Democrat 2nd District, where their votes would be a tiny GOP drop in a big Democrat ocean. In that same redistricting, the Democrats at the State Capitol had the African-American neighborhoods of northeastern Oklahoma City share a congressman with the Panhandle and the wheat fields and cotton fields of western Oklahoma -- all to protect the Democrat incumbent in that district.
District 5, once compactly encompassing part of Oklahoma County, was stretched for hundreds of miles to take in Republican concentrations around Guthrie and Bartlesville. The Wall Street Journal mocked the District's twisted boundaries as "Mickey's Enchanted Kingdom" in honor of incumbent Republican Mickey Edwards. The new boundaries gave Edwards a very safe seat, while making it harder for Republicans to get elected in other districts.
The resulting map contained the impact of growing Republican sentiment in the state, inspired by Ronald Reagan and the leftward shift of the national Democrat party, limiting the GOP to a single seat out of six.
I also remember walking blocks in 1988 for Jerry Riley, who was running for the open Senate 37 seat. That district consisted mainly of the rural and blue collar areas of western Tulsa County, but the boundaries crossed the river to take in a sliver of land between 21st and 56th Streets west of Peoria, including the luxury apartment building at 2300 Riverside. The story I heard was that the Democrat incumbent at the time of redistricting wanted to continue to represent the common people but preferred not to live among them.
These events inspired me to submit an op-ed to the Tulsa Tribune, published on May 31, 1991, opposing the practice of protecting incumbents in redistricting and urging an approach that focused on communities of interest and natural boundaries. I suggested an independent redistricting commission that would include unsuccessful candidates, the use of nested districts to make it harder to draw boundaries favoring an incumbent, and ratification by statewide referendum.
Although Republicans swept control of Oklahoma's congressional delegation in the 1990s, legislative redistricting protected rural Democrat incumbents by adding to each district just enough population from the growing suburbs to keep them viable. That tactic delayed the GOP takeover of the State House until 2004 and the State Senate until 2008. Term limits and the continued shift of the national Democrat Party to the Left ultimately overcame the Democrat advantage built into the maps.
Here's a map showing the State House districts drawn after the 2000 census, but colored to show party status after the 2010 election. Here's the State Senate district map following the 2000 census.
When they had control of the process, Democrats dismissed calls for redistricting reform as so much partisan whining by the GOP. They only seem to have warmed to the idea now that the shoe is on the other foot.
Here are direct links to interactive versions of each Oklahoma congressional map since statehood. The dates refer to the election years affected; add 1 year to get the start of the corresponding congressional term. I've added notes after some of the links:
- Oklahoma congressional districts, 1907, 1908, 1910 elections (60th-62nd Congresses): Oklahoma was assigned 5 congressional seats at statehood.
- Oklahoma congressional districts, 1912 election (63rd Congress): Oklahoma was apportioned three additional seats, but these were elected at-large for one term.
- Oklahoma congressional districts, 1914 - 1930 elections (64th-72nd Congresses): The legislature got around to redrawing the district lines in time for the 1914 election. Congress failed to approve reapportionment after the 1920 census, so Oklahoma's lines were not redrawn.
- Oklahoma congressional districts, 1932 - 1940 elections (73rd-77th Congresses): Oklahoma's 1920s oil boom earned the state a 9th seat, but this was elected at-large; district boundaries did not change.
- Oklahoma congressional districts, 1942 - 1950 elections (78th-82nd Congresses): Dust Bowl emigration cost Oklahoma that at-large seat; boundaries of the 8 remaining districts were not changed.
- Oklahoma congressional districts, 1952 - 1966 elections (83rd-90th Congresses): Further outmigration cost Oklahoma two more seats. District lines had to be redrawn for the first time since 1914. Since the number of congressmen did not change in 1960, the legislature left the map alone.
- Oklahoma congressional districts, 1968 - 1970 elections (91st-92nd Congresses): This map reflects judicially-controlled redistricting to equal-population districts, pursuant to the Voting Rights Act
- Oklahoma congressional districts, 1972 - 1980 elections (93rd-97th Congresses): At time of redistricting, Republicans held districts 1 and 6 only. Long-time District 1 Republican incumbent Page Belcher had won the 1970 election by a narrow margin over Democrat Jim Jones, then opted to retire. The new boundaries added Democrats to and removed Republicans from the district; and Jones won the open District 1 seat in 1972, beating former Tulsa mayor Jim Hewgley by 11 percentage points.
- Oklahoma congressional districts, 1982 - 1990 elections (98th-102nd Congresses): At time of redistricting, Mickey Edwards of CD 5 was the only Republican in the Oklahoma delegation, but growing enthusiasm for Ronald Reagan and the Republican Party in Oklahoma forced boundary adjustments to protect vulnerable Democrat incumbents, like Jim Jones in CD 1 and Glenn English in CD 6.
- Oklahoma congressional districts, 1992 - 2000 elections (103rd-107th Congresses): At time of redistricting, Republican Mickey Edwards still held CD 5, and Republican Jim Inhofe had picked up CD 1 in 1986, when Jim Jones chose to challenge Sen. Don Nickles, so lines were drawn to pack as many Republicans as possible into those two districts.
- Oklahoma congressional districts, 2002 - 2010 elections (108th-112nd Congresses): After being on the bubble in the previous census, Oklahoma finally lost its 6th seat. At time of redistricting, five of six seats were held by Republicans; Democrat Brad Carson held the CD 2. 3rd District incumbent Wes Watkins retired prior to redistricting, avoiding the need to assign two incumbents to the same district.
thirty-thousand.org makes the case for a larger Congress, closer to the constitutional ideal of 30,000 people per seat. The site recounts the 1929 law that froze the number of House members at 435 and the negative effects of that decision.
From the Miami Herald's "Naked Politics" blog: In GOP State of the Union responses, different messages in English and Spanish on immigration. (Highlighting of key differences added.)
The Republican Party's immigration split was reflected Tuesday in the two responses hand-picked party members gave -- one in English, one in Spanish -- to President Obama's final State of the Union address. The Spanish version, offered by a Cuban-American congressman from Miami, was decidedly softer.
Here's what South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley said in English:No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love our traditions should ever feel unwelcome in this country.
At the same time, that does not mean we just flat out open our borders. We can't do that. We cannot continue to allow immigrants to come here illegally. And in this age of terrorism, we must not let in refugees whose intentions cannot be determined.
We must fix our broken immigration system. That means stopping illegal immigration. And it means welcoming properly vetted legal immigrants, regardless of their race or religion. Just like we have for centuries.
I have no doubt that if we act with proper focus, we can protect our borders, our sovereignty and our citizens, all while remaining true to America's noblest legacies.
Here's what Miami Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said in Spanish (translation is ours):No one who is willing to work hard, abide by our laws, and love the United States should ever feel unwelcome in this country. It's not who we are.
At the same time, it's obvious that our immigration system needs to be reformed. The current system puts our national security at risk and is an obstacle for our economy.
It's essential that we find a legislative solution to protect our nation, defend our borders, offer a permanent and human solution to those who live in the shadows, respect the rule of law, modernize the visa system and push the economy forward.
I have no doubt that if we work together, we can achieve this and continue to be faithful to the noblest legacies of the United States.
The Tulsa City Council is rushing to get the new "Vision" tax on the ballot for April. The current Vision 2025 tax doesn't expire until the end of the year, so they could wait until June (the city, state, and federal primary date) or November (city, state, and federal general election) and avoid the cost of a special election. Why don't they? I suspect they think the new tax's chances are better at a low-turnout stealth election, and they may want to lock in a share of the expiring Vision 2025 tax before the county commissioners beat them to it.
Family obligations prevented me from attending any of the three public meetings this week, but I've started to look through the details of the items in the package draft. As currently structured, the proposal seems likely to fail, and fail badly. Friends who are normally gung-ho for any capital improvement proposal are giving Re-Vision a thumbs-down.
Here is the draft City of Tulsa vision proposal, as of January 7, 2016. Here is the list of submitted proposals for the City of Tulsa vision package, with links to PDFs of the submitted application, YouTube videos of the presentations before the City Council, and
Not only is the proposed package far from a cohesive vision, but the Basis of Estimate (BoE) -- the details that justify the amount budgeted -- for each item is dreadfully inadequate. There's reason to believe that the estimates are way off, which means that some ideas that could be funded won't be, and other ideas will be promised (like the low-water dams in Vision 2025, or the juvenile justice facililty in Four to Fix the County) and attract votes, but won't have any possibility of being built without going back to the voters for more money.
The PowerPoint presentation for the BMX Headquarters proposal makes the following claims on slide 12:
Estimated Project Cost: $45 million
5-year Economic Impact: $10,704,049
5-year Anticipated Total of Participant Attendance: 112,653
5-year Anticipated Total of Spectator Attendance: 85,831
5-year Anticipated Room Nights for Tulsa: 16,910
No information was provided to back up those numbers, but even if we assume they're accurate, that's a really rotten return on investment: Spend $45 million to get $10.7 million. In the draft package, only $18 million is allocated, but that still puts the city in the hole. There's no explanation for the $18 million or where the other $29 million will come from. Of course, that $10.7 million "impact" only benefits the taxpayers by the extra sales tax. That means we'll be spending $18 million to see maybe $300,000 in extra money for the basic functions of city government.
Where they wanted to put it is even worse: According to the same PowerPoint, they wanted to pave over Helmerich Park, the part that isn't already is being sold by a city trust for a retail development. That also ups the real cost to Tulsa taxpayers -- we'd be giving away parkland that could sell for millions of dollars.
I'm now told that the proponents have since withdrawn that idea, and they now want to put the BMX facility on the site of Driller Stadium. That's problematic in a different way: Putting a city-financed facility on county-owned land. Given the ongoing friction between the City of Tulsa and Tulsa County, I doubt the county would give the Driller Stadium site away for free. Would the City have to purchase or lease that land?
Cities shouldn't be building headquarters for any private organization, but even if you think it might be a good idea under certain circumstances, you have to admit that this particular idea is too half-baked to be ready for the ballot.
The Air National Guard line item is $9.4 million to build a 119,000 sq. ft. facility to maybe, perhaps, someday, house four F-16 simulators and maybe, perhaps, someday, house four F-35 simulators. There isn't much detail in the submitted proposal; most of what I've been able to learn about the proposal is in the YouTube video of ANG Col. Tray Siegfried presenting the idea to the council.
Siegfried's discussion seemed to be mostly speculation and handwaving. He claimed, in essence, that if the government funds the F-16 simulators, then the building would ensure that they have a place to go, increasing the odds that the DoD would locate simulators here. He said that there had been $24.7 million in the House's version of last year's NDAA, but it didn't survive the Senate. (I looked but was unable to find any reference to F-16 simulators in any of the NDAA versions; perhaps Col. Siegfried could provide bill number, section, and line item to back up his claims.)
Siegfried offered no justification for the proposed size of the building, which is larger than FlightSafety's former building at 2700 N Hemlock Circle. If I recall correctly, the old FlightSafety building could house up to 14 full flight simulators in its 30,000 sq. ft. main highbay.
An F-16 or F-35 simulator is likely to have an even smaller footprint, as simulators for fighter aircraft usually consist of a cockpit on small, fixed base, surrounded by a domed visual display, with an instructor station located nearby. 50 by 40 feet would be a typical space allocation for such a device, and in recent years visual domes have been getting smaller, partly because of pressure from the DoD. Their ideal simulator is small enough and quiet enough (no motion base, no hydraulic pumps) to fit in an ordinary office environment, with ordinary power and ventilation needs. They want something small enough to pack into a semi trailer for shipment to where it's needed most urgently for training. Surely you could fit four F-16 simulators, plus briefing rooms and offices, into a 20,000 sq. ft. building.
From personal observation, it seems unlikely that an Air National Guard base would receive brand new top-of-the-line simulators. The reality is that active-duty bases get the new stuff; National Guard and Reserve bases get hand-me-downs and lower-fidelity devices. If simulators were to come to Tulsa, they'd likely be what are called "unit training devices" -- same small cockpit on a fixed base, but with a large flat screen in front instead of a dome for the out-the-window display. Without the dome, these UTDs can fit in an even smaller space and are much less demanding on the building's power and cooling systems.
I can appreciate Siegfried's desire to have simulators available for his squadron. Simulators, particularly if they're networked together, allow pilots to rehearse missions and emergency situations -- impossible in the actual aircraft. I'm sure it's a bother to ship his pilots off to an active-duty base to get time in the sims.
But this idea of erecting a building in hopes of getting simulators at a later date is based on too many iffy propositions to warrant inclusion in this tax package. What basis is there to hope for additional funds to build the simulators? What assurances do we have that Tulsa would get any of them? What types of simulators are we likely to get, and what are the facilities requirements for each? Where is the justification for a 119,000 sq. ft. building? Does the building need special reinforced concrete pads to support motion bases, with mezzanines and access ramps, or will it need a raised floor?
I'd like to hope that the City Council had thoroughly vetted this request, but the fact that they have accepted the original proposal of $9.4 million suggests that they simply accepted what they were told.
If I were a cynic, I might believe that the City Council had no interest in whether these projects were feasible or appropriately budgeted. I might believe, were I a cynic, that these items were included just to get a few more hundred voters to the polls in the mood to vote yes on everything.
The better path would be for the Council to whittle down the list and propose a shorter-term (five years, max), pay-as-you-go (no "advanced funding" line item for interest and bond fees) sales tax that funded only those items that were of general public benefit and had been thoroughly vetted for feasibility and an accurate estimate of cost.
Corrected the revised amount for the BMX Headquarters proposal, which I had mis-copied from the City Council website. It's an even worse deal than I thought -- $18 million, not $16 million.
I've been reading a very interesting book, The Jazz of the Southwest: An Oral History of Western Swing by Jean A. Boyd (1998, University of Texas Press). Boyd is professor of musicology at Baylor University. The book begins by tracing the overall history of the genre, as it began in Texas in the 1930s, the musical streams from which it drew, and the men who shaped the music in its infancy.
Each of the remaining chapters of the book is devoted to a particular instrument. Boyd provides a historical overview of the instrument's involvement in western swing and the early musicians who helped to define its role. She then tells the story of several players, drawn from her interviews with them. For example, the chapter on fiddlers spotlights Cliff Bruner, Carroll Hubbard, Buddy Ray, Jimmy Thomason, Johnny Gimble, Bobby Bruce, Curly Lewis, Clyde Brewer, and Bobby Boatright. While Bob Wills and his many Texas Playboys sidemen are prominently featured, Boyd's book has introduced me to bands and musicians that are new to me and whose music I hope to find at some point.
The Baylor University Institute for Oral History has made complete transcripts of many of the interviews available online. While there is a Western Swing collection, that tag doesn't include some interviews with western swing musicians, so the best way to find all of them is to search for interviews conducted by Boyd or by historian David Stricklin (son of original Texas Playboys pianist Al Stricklin).
Here are direct links to a few among many interesting transcripts:
Betty Anderson Wills, wife of Bob Wills
Original Texas Playboys: Smoky Dacus, Al Stricklin, Eldon Shamblin, Joe Frank Ferguson, Leon McAuliffe (1985)
Eldon Shamblin, guitarist, arranger, band manager (1992)
Herb Remington, steel guitar
Curly Lewis, fiddler and vocalist
Cindy Walker, songwriter
Dean Moore, vocalist and widow of mandolinist Tiny Moore; Truitt Cunningham, vocalist; Burl Taylor
Some entries (e.g. Dean Moore, Curly Lewis) have the recordings available on the right sidebar for online streaming.
MORE: The Baylor University Institute for Oral History has helpful resources for anyone wanting to learn to conduct, transcribe, and preserve oral history interviews.
Jean Boyd has written two more books of western swing history: We're the Light Crust Doughboys from Burrus Mill, and Dance All Night: Those Other Southwestern Swing Bands, Past and Present.
Tulsans will have two chances this month to sample the movie-going experience as it was almost a century ago, thanks to the Sooner State Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society.
This coming Saturday, January 9, 2016, at 11 a.m., Circle Cinema will screen the 1927 film It, starring Clara Bow, who became known as "The 'It' Girl," and the first episode of the serial The Master Mystery, starring legendary magician Harry Houdini. Admission is $5 for adults, $2 for 16 and under. This is part of the "Second Saturday Silents at the Circle Cinema" series. Circle Cinema is at 10 S. Lewis in Whittier Square.
A week from this Friday, January 15, 2016, at 7:00 p.m., the Sooner State Chapter will present Robin Hood, the 1922 version starring Douglas Fairbanks, at the Broken Arrow campus of Tulsa Technology Center, 111th St & 129th East Ave. The movie was the most expensive production of its day. Bill Rowland will accompany the film on the Robert-Morton pipe organ, an instrument originally installed in the Capital Theatre in Steubenville, Ohio, in 1927. Admission, popcorn, and lemonade are free, but donations are gratefully accepted.
MORE MUSIC: A couple of musical events worthy of note:
Tonight, Wednesday, January 6, 2016, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., Shelby Eicher is hosting a gypsy jazz concert (in the tradition of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli) at the Oklahoma Jazz Hall of Fame (in the old Tulsa Union Depot, 1st & Boston downtown). Admission is $10.
Tomorrow night, Thursday, January 7, 2016, at 7:30 p.m., the Memorial High School Choir will present Mozart's Coronation Mass and Regina Coeli for their 33rd annual Vocal Music Masterworks Concert at Holy Family Cathedral, 8th & Boulder downtown.